Sketches on Atheism

On Evil

borderIn the minds of those determined to believe[1], maximum evil could not, under any circumstance, exist unto itself, free and unrestricted. In the eyes of those who must believe, this universe could not, as such, possibly be the construct of a perfectly evil, maximally powerful creator because such a universe would almost certainly annihilate itself. Maximum evil, it is held by those who are committed to believe, must surely also be maximally selfish, a brutish force of incalculable hostility, incapable of restraint, and despite possessing infinite capacity for creativity would be destined to defile itself and whatever it imagined into being. Unchained evil—the portrait of the perfect predator—could not help but to consume itself in a single gluttonous moment of unchecked desecration, an Ouroboros on a colossal scale, hopelessly given over to self-indulgence; a helpless, impossible creature whose very nature seals its own fate in a closed circle of almost instantaneous self-obliteration. Omnipotent evil, it is believed by those who force themselves to believe, would seduce itself in the first instant, and in the next, ravage and befoul anything borne of that nanosecond-long creative benediction, leaving nothing of its presence but ash.

To those, however, who are not subject to an emotional fickleness that poisons intellectual honesty, it is clear that this self-negating, jellybean characterisation of evil is a pantomime. It is, as Jeremy Bentham would have said, “Nonsense on stilts;”[2] a cartoon which purposefully ignores the self-evident fact that a world driven only by impetuous brutality would resemble more an ephemeral house-fire than an enduring, vibrant, profitable marketplace desired by a Creator whose central ambition is to maximise His pleasure over time.

His pleasure.

There are no two more important words in all of Creation.

His pleasure.

Creation—this finite construct man has audaciously named the ‘universe’—exists as it does to give pleasure to its Creator. It knows no other state of employment, and the most persuasive and predictable source of that pleasure is the genuine, incorruptible, thrilling energy released through the suffering that has existed since hydrogen screamed that most ancient of all primal screams[3]. His pleasure marks the outermost cell wall of Creation. His pleasure defines and instructs the single mechanism by which all things move and shift and transform, tumbling forever forward into ever-greater complexity, and by doing so maximising the production and potency of those things—and later, events—from which He draws the greatest stimulation.

Consider this simple fact: If the operations of this world were underwritten by nothing but an outwardly reckless policy of uncapped destruction and mayhem then it would very quickly bring about a reduction in suffering, not enhancement, as continuously savaged life systems would never be afforded the necessary time, space, and security to mature and internally enrich, and without self-enrichment, without diversification, the Creator’s harvests would be increasingly anaemic over time, and this would represent a failed, bankrupted Creation.

As Creation exhibits neither qualities of failure or approaching bankruptcy one must rationally conclude Creation is functioning precisely as the Creator desires, and what He desires is an accretion in those things He finds enjoyable, finds pleasurable, and that directive supersedes everything else.

[1] See Andrews, Max, A Response to the Problem of an ‘Evil God’ as Raised by Stephen Law, Sententias, Accessed Online 3rd February, 2015

[2] Harrison, Ross (1995). “Jeremy Bentham”. In Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 85–88.

[3] G. Tononi, Integrated information theory of consciousness: an updated account, Archives Italiennes de Biologie, 150: 290-326, 2012.

Artwork: Satan by aaronsimscompany

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85 thoughts on “On Evil

      • Awesome, just awesome. I cannot wait.

        The problem is you are converting me into a BELIEVER in your anti-vision. If we publicize you enough, maybe you can become another Lovecraft, whose vision, “theology” if you will, still to this day inspires those of a morbid (lol) sense because it makes so much sense!

        AMAZON lost my copy of the first book (I told you Bezos is Satan):( but the proceeds go for a good cause, so no worries. I need to reorder!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I tend to think that if we were part of a Twilight Zone episode (seems reasonable) that in the final scene the camera would zoom back showing us in a kind of an ant farm with our “deity” a child of no particular quality. Oh wait, they did make that episode.

    welcome to Planet Earth, Yahweh’s ant farm.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, John.

    It’s hard to criticize the idea of an omni-malevolent creator, because there aren’t really any rules about how to be evil. Like you said, the only real rule would be the desires of the creator, which could be all over the board. So when someone argues against the idea by saying that such a universe would eventually annihilate itself — how do they know?

    In a way, I feel bad for them, because it’s not nearly as easy to defend the idea of an omni-benevolent god. That’s because being good, unlike being evil, does have a set of rules that go along with it. So if they claim their god is good, but he commands genocide, then they’ve immediately contradicted the definition of their god. It’s much harder to criticize an omni-malevolent god, because there are no rules about how he/she/it should behave.

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    • Hey Nate, yes, it is a thoroughly effortless exercise to establish the theology of a wicked Creator. Scarily easy, in fact. While you were away i published a book on it all, linked above on the right. A great problem arises in what human’s call “evil.” Our definitions are meaningless. I use the example of oxygen to demonstrate this point. We enjoy oxygen, we find it palatable and necessary, yet do we ever stop to think we’re drinking in another organisms waste, its faeces? Does this alter our perception or enjoyment of oxygen?

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      • Indeed, he would encourage growth across all fields of what is possible because that alone promises an accretion in the breadth and depth of available suffering . A 70 million neuron-equipped field mouse might be capable of knowing many sweet paranoias and anxieties, but a 100 billion neuron-equipped human can, and has embraced fear to such a point that he can literally fear fear: phobophobia. That is a special kind of suffering, and it takes time (evolutionary time) to ripen.

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  3. I’m going to need some time to fully ingest this post. As always your ideas push me to a deeper kind of thought and analysis. I’m having difficulty getting past (I’ve always had this difficulty) the concept of a god having an ability to experience pleasure. I haven’t fully explored why this is so repugnant to me but I have always felt that way. The idea that god desires and derives pleasure from being worshiped seems so very human, so small and petty.
    I will read your book and hope my brain does not cramp up due to over extension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi John, I couldn’t agree more, and brilliant pick-up. An omnipotent, omniscient being could not be moved to emotion. In the book I say this:

      “To an omniscient being, nothing in all of Creation can be original, fashionable, or even distinct, as every event, thought, action, adventure and discovery is occurring simultaneously in one stretched-out moment. To be omniscient means to have never felt even the slightest twang of curiosity, for there can be no unexpected twists if every outcome to every drama and experiment is already known. Without the capacity for curiosity it is, therefore, impossible for the omniscient being to be interested in anything, let alone be attentive to His own pleasure, as pleasure is inaccessible if all of Creation is, from His great perspective, perfectly flat and of a uniform temperature.”

      This, to me, is but one reason that rules out the existence of a personal, observant god. However, as we’re playing with god concepts as presented by theists, and in particular Christian philosophers, then we have to play, in part, by their definitions. The only way such a god could exist, and be interested, is if it suspended that talent, his omniscience, which is what i propose in the thesis. This way, and only in this way, can he actually experience things, such as pleasure…. and if you can experience pleasure then you would only naturally want to amplify that experience over time or else even the most thrilling and most exciting thing would eventually erode into the normal and mundane. This i explain in the book this way:

      “Only the most mulish of detractors could deny that an existence for any sentient creature, even one as vast and enigmatic as the Creator Himself, without experiential growth would be in external appearance, counterintuitive, and privately, pointless. Such an unanimated life, a life filled with nothing but eternal and unchanging sameness, would almost certainly be intolerable, and without hope for improvement or prospect for betterment and accretion in those sensations considered the most provocative and arousing, it would not be a life worth living. It stands to common reason then that to live an internally meaningful, outwardly fulfilling existence, one lavished with excitement and essential stimulation, The Owner of All Infernal Names must, as a matter of simple necessity, seek to maximise His pleasure-taking over time.”

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      • You have eloquently and succinctly articulated the ideas of this concept. I had been grasping at the edges of such a conclusion but had yet to form a defining conclusion. And now here it is. Thank you.

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      • Ha! I wish that were true 🙂 But, the book section on the impossibility of omniscience goes into more detail than this snippet here. It was fun to write, and as far as I could tell (from a biased perspective, at least), pretty robust.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You make-um big mistake, Paleface …

        Philosopher: philo (love of) and sophia (wisdom). Ergo, philosopher is a lover of wisdom. Boom boom!
        And now we get to the gritty bit—

        —isn’t ‘Christian philosopher’ a wee bit oxymoronic, just a teensy bit of a contradiction in terms?

        Or an impossibility. (Jury still out on that one but I’ll buy it.)

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve often wondered what ol’ God did for kicks before inventing us?

      If science is right and the universe is about fifteen (or whatever number is currently fashionable) (science too is fashion) milliard years old and the Earth about one thirdish of that, and we moral humans have only been around for one tiny fractionth of that … then God spent a truly awesome amount of time waiting for us so He/She could get His/Her/Its voyeuristic jollies? Wow~! Talk about eager anticipation— did He drool, do you think?

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  4. I’m kind of surprised no theist has offered the Nyan Cat rebuttal to the hypothesis of the Omni-Malevolent Creator:

    How could a malevolent creator exist in the same reality as adorable Internet cat videos?

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  5. I really like this deity of yours. He’s right to the point and doesn’t “F” around. Fine fellow. Btw, if you’ve not watched a BBC series called Black Mirror, do so. You’ll love it. There’s only 6 episodes, but Netflix just ordered 12 more. It’s a darker version of the Twilight Zone and very well written. Your bundle of joy for a deity here would make a great subject for one of the episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The concept of a maximum evil is self-rebutting: any closed system containing evil must, in order that such evil be expressed – and unexpressed evil is not evil but merely a disposition – act upon what is not evil, for if it acts malevolently upon what is evil it in effect is not evil.

    Perhaps you state this or something similar in your book John? I am only a couple of chapters in. By the way, I think the typography is excellent in terms of readability, and I like the Supermatt cover – nice job, and very fairly priced too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hariod!

      You’re using a human definition of evil, which is going to cause problems. The Creator is not necessarily malicious or vengeful, merely thoroughly observant of his needs. Our interpretation of that orientation does not mean our interpretation accurately represents his disposition. And could this universe not simply be a closed system, a game that when cold and empty will be discarded, a sheet tossed onto a godly midden where other dead universes have been thrown?

      Yeah, I liked the way the physical book turned out. Not too happy with the e-version layout, though, but we live and learn.

      How’s Spring treating you?

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      • Omni-malevolence would appear to have only one interpretation would it not? The pragmatism demanded of the parodically-alleged OMC is well understood, yet he can never be true to his title as he feeds off and is sustained by what is antithetical to him – as does the mythical Omni-benevolent creator (OBC). They are both predisposed to each other and to each other’s creations in an eternal and all-loving embrace, for without one another, they can no longer exist in their own minds, nor in the minds of the credulous. And yes, once we posit a ‘creation’, we are by default defining a closed system, one wrought through agency rather than chance and necessity.

        Spring?! Are you working on some variant of your Holocene calendar in which Spring in England arrives where once stood winter? 😉 Mind you, climate change seems to have all but eradicated distinctions between the seasons here it seems.

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      • Well, we cannot ascribe moral values to an inanimate entity of course, but the cupidity of the mercantile and aristocratic classes which owned and managed the company bought both good and bad to India – overwhelmingly the latter, although it did introduce a meritocratic model of civil service which survives in both India and Britain to this day. So, at times pragmatic in operation, though always in the service of cupidity (malevolence) – which is partly your thesis. The company was not, therefore, maximally evil [i.e. totally evil] as the concept, it seems to me, is self-rebutting. Logically, there can be no hell in which only evil is done.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, this on page 50 of your book John:

        “Ultimately, true evil in fact finds its greatest expression in nurturing good . . .”

        This accords with what I was suggesting in my comments here John. I think a confusion may arise in your referring to a ‘Maximal Evil’ and ‘Omni*-Malevolence’, both of which could well be taken as being synonymous with a meaning of ‘Wholly Evil’ – the concept I am arguing against the possibility of, as indeed it seems you are too. [*Etymology of Omni: “all, every, the whole, of every kind”]

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly. Perhaps “True” evil would be the better phrase to use throughout. I was drawn, however, to using maximal and omni as these are the way the Christian philosopher defines their god hypothesis. A fully capable creator spirit.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. ” … Maximum evil, it is held by those who are committed to believe, must surely also be maximally selfish, a brutish force of incalculable hostility, incapable of restraint, and despite possessing infinite capacity for creativity would be destined to defile itself …”

    You’ve just defined someone. Hah, I just can’t wait for those inventive wee scamps of ISIS, ISIL, and/or Islam to defile itselves.

    In the meantime I guess we humanitarians must continue to import them. Not good. But we’ll get our rewards in Heaven …

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What are the moral implications? For a conventional believer, what is moral is what pleases God (as a matter of fact, or of logic; choose your preferred horn of Euthyphro’s Dilemma).

    But is it good, or evil, to attempt to defy the Evil One, who will respond with added amusement to our antics?

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    • Supremely good observation, Paul. Thomas Malthus said our highest duty is to work against evil, and this pleases The Owner of All Infernal Names. Existential despair would be an abhorrent outcome for TOOAIN for it would surely lead to revolutionary suicide, and how can one enjoy the suffering of contingent things if those contingent things refused to live, to perform, to hope and to dream, and to struggle? In the book I present this dilemma as such:

      ”If sentient life recognised the futility of its existence, if it recognised that it had been born on the line and was eternally bonded to the perverted servitude of another who does not—and will never—hold council to discuss emancipation, then it is inevitable that birth rates among all self-aware creatures would plummet as reproduction itself would be viewed as an unconscionable and outrageous act of unforgivable selfishness. Being freely acting, morally autonomous, and presented with an insufferable reality, complex conscious life would find no option but to rebel, and to rebel completely by deploying the only weapon it had against the architect of its unforgiving world: a massive denial of service; self-administered, intentional extinction…. Revolutionary suicide.”

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  9. You wrote, Maximum evil,…….. must surely also be maximally selfish,…
    I must to disagree.
    The concept that evil exists as a separate entity, acting according to its own wish, by influencing events, is nothing else than fetish. We know that the nature is neutral as to morality, (even most of the animal kingdom is so). Only the humans are real moral beings capable to act within moral framework. Evil is about acting against the self evident moral code, accepted by every human being. Such code is “don’t kill other human”. Yet, this code was and is continuously broken. The only form of evil that exists is done by humans.
    So the human beings are he only possible source of evil. Most of the evil acts of human beings (wars) are acts of self sacrifice. So the evil is definitely not an act of selfishness.

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    • Hi Eugen, great to see you!

      “Maximum evil must surely also be maximally selfish” is the thought of those who need to believe in benevolence. They, like Max Andrews, structure evil as being self-defeating and unable to exist unto itself. I argue this is wrong. Maximum evil (what we’d call “evil”) can most certainly exist, and it exists because it is thoroughly pragmatic in its orientation to its creation. But you’re right, only humans perform evil. Nature is just the canvass for suffering, and we, as the paragon of animals, are sufferings greatest expression… the product of an evolutionary passage forever refining the potency and delivery of suffering. That has manifest itself most beautifully, for now at least, in human beings.

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  10. John, I read this, your latest post, very shortly after it was published on your blog. But as with your superb book, I found myself needing time to absorb the messages.

    The replies from others are most helpful, very much so, but still I struggle to embrace any form of super natural force or entity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As do I Paul… This is just my “other” persona: the theistic apologist invented to baffle and confound believers in the Abrahamic god, God 😉

      (Whenever you see me writing on Evil, think Poe’s Law… Or The Colbert Report)

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      • What tickles me is that being introduced to your writings has been the most enlightening yet mysterious experience of my lifetime! I imagine it rather like entering the most glorious maze. Awed by the beauty of one’s surroundings yet totally lost and unsure as to how the world will look once one finds a way out!

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      • Sometimes I make sense… other times, not so much. A good friend of mine found a play I wrote in my 20’s. His appraisal: “It’s like a rock song, I like it, but I have no idea what is being said.”

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  11. ”The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

    Maybe the Devil’s truly greatest trick was inventing Yahweh?

    By the way, you ought to be careful with things like this – you might start making unintentional converts. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You’re too clever of a writer that I am sure what I start thinking about when you read your posts is perhaps not intended. But I am going to assume you are okay with your posts being considered artful as well as logical so I am free to interpret. LOL

    We have many characteristics that are part of our evolution which make sense for our survival and propagation of our species. Like the feelings of love we experience when we see babies, that love extends to other species that have baby like features such other baby mammals. Our propensity for trying to determine intention is also very important in a social species. In essentially all we do we have an intention, and it makes sense that other people would develop some skill in trying to understand intention without the necessity of language or even a lot of communication. We apply this instinct for determining intention to everything. As Douglas Adams said in a wonderful speech, pondered about early man and how he had tricked himself into the idea of God. If I as a species am able to utilize my environment for my survival, and am the maker of things, then who made these things that I can use for me? Well it must be someone far more powerful that must have created this world. It was a trap we couldn’t help but fall into. But as we apply intention to the universe we must accept that both good and bad things happen. And if God is that force of good then there must be a being out there that has evil intentions for which the force of good has no dominion over (ying and yang) or if God as many Christians believe is the most powerful supernatural being that could stop the devil, but doesn’t then this would contradict the idea of God being a force of good. He would simply be a psychopath who helps people when he feels like it, but other times says…nah I think they had it coming…and sometimes seems to think that tough love is the best thing for us even if plenty of innocent people die. When I was still hanging on to my theism it seemed to me that there was no way that God could be a perfect force of good, or that he was perfect at all. Nor did it seem reasonable that he was the most powerful force out there. Of course when I came to understand our propensity for applying intentionality to everything I realized the way God was defined was even more nonsensical and that there was no choice but to conclude that God simply could not be as it was defined by man.

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    • Swarn

      Your thoughts are so crystal, so clean, so unobstructed children should be required to swim through them.

      And yes, there are many, many, many self-negating things in any and all god concepts. Propose maximum power and WHAM, there’s that stone so heavy god can’t lift it. Propose omniscience, and WHAM, how could that god be interested in anything?

      However, there is a way out. There is an answer to the dilemma, and it’s as ghastly and repugnant as it is an act of pure and unmitigated genius. The Creator does not know He is the Creator. To amplify His pleasure taking He has put his own eyes out, blinded Himself, and thrown Himself into His creation, inflicting pain and also suffering pain. Would this not be the maximally debased act of a maximally debased being? Who but the immaculate embodiment of pure evil would simultaneously play the role of predator and prey, aggressor and victim, torturer and tortured, bullet thrower and bullet catcher? Both sides are thrilling. Both sides have their own unique set of sweet anxieties and delicious agonies.

      As observed by Plantinga: “God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of His creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering.”

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      • Interestingly that quote sort of mirrors how I felt about God about 15 years ago. I made God much more human, and a God who shares in our suffering also gives him much more human like qualities. Then it sort of dawned on me that what I really loved was humanity and not God. If there was a being of perfection out there it didn’t need love as much as the imperfect humans. By saying God shares in our suffering too it seems to me that God is much more of an expression of who we are and what we go through. The God you describe is one who is in a constant state of conflict between pain and pleasure. Freud believe that life was all about conflict and there is some good evidence to show that this is very much how our thoughts often run. Am I okay killing this group of people, if it saves my people? Do I cheat on the exam and do well so my father doesn’t me for a bad grade, or should I be honest and not cheat and face the consequences? We face these kinds of decisions all the time. Perhaps God cannot help but be contradictory as our creations since we are such walking contradictions.

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  13. Wrong.

    All wrong.

    You guys are cleverly appealing to intellect. Not good. Intellect, logic, maths, science, rational analysis etc have no place in religions.

    So discussions like these are fun but achieve nothing if stacked against the likes of (say) New Zealand’s ‘Bishop’ Tamaki. What makes our good bishop so successful?

    What keeps the Pope in office?
    What keeps the heroes of Islam busy sawing off the heads of ‘unbelievers’ (by hand, yuk) or drowning them in cages lowered into swimming pools?

    I’d say not cold logic but hot emotions.

    For converts (and I guess one could call the absence/opposite of religion a religion too?) one should not look to logic or reason. I would state that no-one is ever converted from being a ‘servant of the Lord’ into a rationalist by reason alone.
    Banging the head against a brick wall is often more productive than trying to communicate with someone who (at divine command via dubious literature) bangs his head against the ground five times a day.

    Perhaps it’s all a form of mental masturbation, really—or the self-reinforcement of groups of like-minds?
    Might as well go to church and try for the cup of tea afterwards and a chance to chat up some of the divine dolly-biirds often found grinding their teeth there on Sunday mornings …

    Hot emotions require reflex rather than thought. Programming.
    Needles of LP records follow grooves—only sometimes do they jump out; and it’s not because someone told them to think about what they’re doing.
    Needles in tracks don’t need think, they need jolt.

    Emotions are more chemical than computational, reaction rather than action.
    To create change away from religions one needs generate emotions—come up with more appealing emotions (bigger better promises) or watch the world go to Hell in a handbasket.

    Which reminds me, I must get on with my Blessed Holey Koran reading—every time I open it my eyes water …

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    • “Which reminds me, I must get on with my Blessed Holey Koran reading—every time I open it my eyes water …” You must have purchased “The Koran: The Onion Version.” Hard to read that one without weeping like a child. Return that for “The Koran: The Jasmine Version” and your eyes will thank you for it. However, it may put you to sleep, so drink plenty of coffee while reading it. 🙂

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  14. Pingback: God looks a lot like no God | Allallt in discussion

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